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The unsettling rise of Facebook Marketplace sperm donors

Why bother with expensive IVF or IUI treatments for your fertility needs? Facebook Marketplace apparently has you covered.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard today? Wait, here us out.

Thousands of people are currently looking for unregulated fertility treatments on – get this – Facebook Marketplace.

Now, it goes without saying that assisted conception is a sensitive topic, and the sad reality is that treatments are incredibly expensive and inaccessible to most. That being said, what we’re looking at here is both terrifying and outright illegal.

Sellers are currently touting their sperm like crop fertiliser, and Facebook is inadvertently serving as a hub for connecting freelance ‘donors’ with women seeking reproductive assistance. Unsurprisingly, these networks aren’t the most civilised you’ll find on social media.

Wading through heaps of abuse, you’ll find a host of bachelors vying to provide a service of natural insemination. This enthusiasm, borne of exploitation thinly veiled as altruism, has led to prospective mothers being sent heaps of unsolicited X-rated images and pressuring messages.

Those who have been officially screened for STDs are the exception, and none of the black market groups have been verified by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Assessing sperm quality, despite the entrepreneurial big talk of sellers, is a lottery and there are no checks for underlying genetic disorders which could be inherited.

Again, there is a tragic side to this story. Despairing people defeated by the ludicrous costs and bureaucratic obstacles that come with recognised fertility treatments are either left to cope with the bad hand they’ve been dealt, or risk turning to illicit marketplaces.

The medical marvel that is IVF (in vitro fertilisation) typically costs £5,000 for a single treatment, which doesn’t at all guarantee success, and one cycle of IUI (intrauterine insemination) can cost north of £2,500 for both a donor vial and the procedure.

The NHS does offer a free service to those struggling with assisted conception, but a crucial condition mandates that five unsuccessful courses of IUI must already have been taken to qualify. Basically, the system isn’t fit for purpose.

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Neither method takes into account the cost of mandatory consultations and health tests, either. It’s certainly not as straightforward as the reality stars of Beverly Hills and Miami would have you believe.

Despite these shortcomings, it’s not any less shocking to see people turning to Facebook Marketplace for sperm. The lunacy of the situation is encompassed by a 2022 article from the Sun which described a ‘sperm mafia,’ where freelance donors would resort to threats and blackmail to gain an edge – no pun intended – on the competition.

While the natural reaction to the headline is to laugh (after an abrupt double take) the existence of these groups is undoubtedly a sad indictment of the UK’s approach and attitude towards fertility treatments.

We’re at the stage where people seeking to start a family are potentially compromising their health because official pathways simply aren’t there. It’s about time the government intervened with some viable, preferably non-extortionate, solutions.

In terms of Facebook’s part in this, I’d love to say I’m shocked, but…

Without reading the small print on the terms and conditions, I’m going to hazard a guess that unregulated sperm donor rings don’t qualify under the trade rules it claims to enforce.